Prince Philip once said, “The Daily Express is a bloody awful newspaper, full of lies, scandal and imagination”. For good measure he added, “It is a vicious paper.”
He was right, wasn’t he?
Lord Beaverbrook, who bought the newspaper in 1916, told a Royal Commission into the press that he ran the paper, “purely for the purpose of making propaganda”.
In my view nothing much has changed. The Daily Express is still a bloody awful newspaper.
Yesterday, the Daily Express ran a story with a headline that shouted:
'BOMBSHELL REPORT: Mass immigration is costing Britain £17BILLION each year'
The article controversially claims that migrants in Britain cost the government more than they provide in taxes, and that if Britain left the EU, we could save those costs.
This is in stark contrast to comprehensive and highly respected peer-reviewed studies by the London School of Economics and University College London. Their reports calculated that EU immigrants pay more in taxes than their use of public services.
Alongside the Daily Express online story today is a Reuters photo of Syrian refugees trying to get into Hungary under a barbed wire fence along the border with Serbia. The Express photo caption reads:
‘The number of EU migrants living in the UK has been undercounted by 250,000 over the past five years.’
I have written to the Daily Express to ask:
'Can you explain why you are using a photo of Syrian refugees in connection with EU migration, as the two are not directly connected? Also, can you please provide your source for the undercounting of EU migrants?’
Today’s Express front page story is based on a new a study by ‘Migration Watch’, which describes itself as an independent think-tank, but which some commentators have called a right-wing pressure group.
Their study claims that EU/EEA migrants contributed £31.2billion in taxes in 2014-15, but benefited from £32.4billion in public spending, causing a net fiscal loss of £1.2 billion.
For non-EU migrants over the same period, calculated Migration Watch, the net fiscal loss was much higher at £15.5 billion.
The Daily Express concludes from the study that if Britain left the EU, the government could avoid ‘a net cost of £1.2 billion’.
The problem is that there is no clear evidence that Britain could avoid a cost of £1.2 billion if we left the EU. I have also put this point to the Daily Express today:
‘Most EU migrants here are in gainful employment, helping to fill a record number of vacancies.
'Presumably even outside the EU we’d still need a similar number of migrants filling those jobs, with a similar fiscal cost (or maybe even a higher one, since the government cost of processing migration to this country would no doubt be much higher if we were not an EU member).’
So far the only response received from the Daily Express is that if I want to make a complaint about their story I should contact their legal department.
A glaring omission from the Daily Express story today is the biggest bombshell of all: based on the Migration Watch calculations, it’s actually the British native population that’s the greatest drain on government finances.
Whereas the Migration Watch report calculated that EU migrants in 2014-2015 caused a net fiscal loss of £1.2 billion, the net fiscal loss caused by the native British population during the same period was calculated at a whopping £87.8 billion.
This is nowhere mentioned in the Daily Express report. Maybe if it had been, the newspaper might have concluded that the entire population of the UK should leave the country to save the government a fortune in expenditure.
Of course, such conclusions are crass and unhelpful. Simplistic and controversial calculations regarding the cost of running a modern society don’t help that society.
Britain is still recovering from the world-wide economic crisis. Currently the entire population of the country is costing the government more than the government receives.
Unfairly blaming migrants, most of whom are working hard and paying taxes, simply exacerbates an unfounded fear and dislike of migrants. All workers in Britain, including migrants, are making a contribution to the country; it’s not the fault of tax-paying migrants if the government cannot balance its books.
As the economy improves and grows, it's expected that the total fiscal contribution of workers in Britain - both British and migrant - will substantially increase.
A significant benefit of EU migrants coming to Britain to work is that they arrive with their education already paid for.
I asked Migration Watch today if they had factored that benefit into their report. They replied:
'No, because this would mean crediting them with an imaginary contribution. When someone arrives in the UK from Portugal for example, their education might have cost Portugal £20,000, but they do not bring that sum with them and pay it into the Exchequer.
'The paper looks - as does previous research - at the fiscal balance. While of course on the one hand there are arguably non-fiscal benefits like this, on the other there are non-fiscal disbenefits like rising rents and over-crowding.'
I am not satisfied with this answer. The costs of educating any migrant coming here will have been many times more than £20,000.
Studies confirm that migrants on average have attained a much higher level of education than the average Briton, so the notional fiscal savings per highly-skilled migrant would be considerable.
The UCL study found that Britain saved billions in education costs from the benefits of migrants, so it seems disingenuous for the Migration Watch study to omit this from their report. This is especially the case since Migration Watch claimed that their report was a follow-up to the UCL study.
The final paragraph of the Daily Express story quotes a government spokesman commenting on the newspaper's figures:
“These figures do not take account of the contributions to the UK economy that migrants have made over their lifetimes. Data released by HMRC only last week showed recently-arrived EU migrants paid £2.5billion more in tax than they received in tax credits or child benefit in 2013/14."
There have been several studies that contradict those of the Migration Watch and Daily Express.
Last week the Centre of Economic Performance, part of the London School of Economics, published their own research which is at stark variance to yesterday's Daily Express front page.
The LSE report in summary concluded that:
• EU immigrants pay more in taxes than they use public services and therefore they help to reduce the budget deficit.
• The areas of the UK with large increases in EU immigration did not suffer greater falls in the jobs and pay of UK-born workers.
• EU immigrants are more educated, younger, more likely to be in work and less likely to claim benefits than the UK-born.
• The refugee crisis is unrelated to our EU membership. Refugees admitted to Germany have no right to live in the UK. The UK is not in the Schengen passport-free travel agreement so there are border checks on all migrants.
Another study concluded by University College London in 2014 concluded that:
'European immigrants who arrived in the UK since 2000 have contributed more than £20bn to UK public finances between 2001 and 2011. Moreover, they have endowed the country with productive human capital that would have cost the UK £6.8bn in spending on education.'
Yesterday Infacts, the independent pro-EU fact checking team, accused Migration Watch of 'distorting' the UCL research:
'UCL’s research was peer reviewed and appeared in a top academic journal. The same cannot be said for Migration Watch’s report. Nor was any author named, meaning no individual is accountable for it.'
• Jon Danzig's talk - 'Newspaper lies can cost lives' (14 minutes):
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#EUReferendum #DailyExpress 'bombshell' story on cost of #migrants Is it true? My report: https://t.co/PklsSiZzUg pic.twitter.com/MBD3dZPZ7L— Jon Danzig (@Jon_Danzig) May 17, 2016